I've stayed in a lot of Marriott hotels lately.
Plenty of the conferences I attend and speak at are organized at Marriott properties and I'm a member of the Marriott affinity program so the collected room nights earn me free breakfasts and occasional upgrades.
But even though I'm a frequent guest at their hotels and I also tend to pay attention to the marketing and branding messages of the products I use, the other day it occurred to me that I don't know what the Marriott brand is nor what they have established and communicated as their brand promise.
I don't remember seeing a tagline on their advertising or their receipts or even their new mobile app.
And I don't recall anyone telling me what the Marriott brand is all about.
What's more, I don't find much consistency in their properties. While new hotels such as their Marriott Marquis convention hotel in Washington DC can be absolutely spectacular, many of their older hotels are clean and quite serviceable but nothing to write home about. About the only thing you can count on finding in every one of their properties is the portrait of father and son Bill and Bill Marriott smiling back at you from a wall in the lobby.
Marriott restaurants are different from venue to venue and even their complimentary concierge breakfasts and afternoon snacks are as varied as the properties they're in. For example, some hotels have 24-hour cappuccino machines and upscale breakfasts with smoked salmon and capers and fresh eggs while others simply offer big urns of hot coffee, big trays of cold bagels, and big tubs of oatmeal that're usually somewhere in between.
Fitness centers, swimming pools, and other public spaces are all toss ups too – sometimes they are expansive and state-of-the-art and other times they're small and basic, although always good enough to get the job done.
No, the message Marriot's various physical plants offer doesn't really tell their true story, either.
But just this morning I was in the Marriott in Connecticut and I got a little hint into what the brand is all about. I'd taken the train from Penn Station and pulled into the Windsor Locks' junction late at night. A quick cell phone chat with the friendly Marriott desk clerk and they sent their courtesy van around to pick me up. It was driven by a smiley guy who helped me with my bags and got me up to the hotel.
Early the next morning I swiped my door key in the elevator slot and rode up to the eighth floor concierge level for breakfast. Joel, the elfin concierge manager, greeted me at the door with a big smile and made sure I had hot coffee and a copy of The New York Times before scurrying off to help the other travelers entering the lounge.
When I was done, Joel offered me a cup of coffee and a bottle of water for the road. I took both and thanked him for his hospitality. That got us to talking.
Turns out Joel has to wake up at 3:30 in the morning to get the coffee brewed and the oatmeal ready for the folks catching early flights out of Hartford. Despite that inconvenience, Joel told me he has “the best job in the world.”
“I work for a great company, I get to chat with the nicest people and hear about their travels, I can make their lives a little better, and I still get home early enough to spend time with my son. What more could I ask for?”
When I repeated that I was impressed with his attitude and belief that he had the “greatest job in the world,” Joel shushed me with a finger across his lips. “Don't tell anyone,” he added with a wink, “but they actually pay me to do this!”
When I checked out, the woman behind the counter was as pleasant as could be and the courtesy van driver who took me to the rental car lot was nice enough to point out the few sites of interest along our quick route towards the airport.
Somewhere in that van it dawned on me that almost every person I've spoken to at a Marriott, from my friend Kimberly Wilson who now manages their Ritz-Carlton on Key Biscayne, to the young woman who checked me in at the Washington DC Marriot Marquis, to every chamber maid, bellhop, and doorman I've dealt with has gone out of their way to be warm, welcoming, and friendly – smiling just like Marriott father and son in the aforementioned portrait.
Maybe in a business where their physical offerings are too diverse to promise the consistency of a McDonalds or a Starbucks, what Marriott has figured out is that the Marriott brand is best conveyed and communicated by the smiling people who truly make you feel like they're happy you're there.
Maybe this is something your business could take advantage of too.